boston

It Takes an Ocean Not to Break

It Takes an Ocean Not to Break

I’ve been writing about the day in the spring of 2012 when my husband and I had the conversation to separate, the day I took the same run for the first time, when the sensation of running both towards and away from something was so urgent I felt I might spin right off the land into the deep, endless waters.

Love is Louder and Boston is Strong

This is a repost from April 19, 2013. So much love, excitment and reverence for the runners.You are in the arena today.

 APRIL 19, 2013 - It’s taken a few days to assemble the words, but while on a run today, wearing the way-too-worn-out shoes I wore during last year’s marathon, thoughts started to string together.

I moved to Boston in 1999 from Colorado, at twenty-one, and with enough naiveté to go somewhere I’d only been once before - without a job or a network. When people asked me why I moved here, picked this city, I still don’t really know. My friend and I were throwing out cities while I was blow drying my hair in my college house bedroom in Fort Collins. It was May, just before graduation. I can still see the light and smell the air in the room as we were talking. The electricity of those first seconds as we locked eyes and surprised ourselves. “I’ll do it. I'll go,” we said.

It was one of those moments where you knew your life had already changed; that it would happen; that it was already written. We went out that night and started telling people we were moving in September.

Have you ever been there?

Nope.

Why Boston?

I don’t know!

And so that September we packed up and drove cross-country. Moved into a laughably small apartment in Davis Square (long before Davis was gentrified), on the 3rd floor of a house that smelled like old Chinese food and stale air. My room was actually a sunroom or a converted porch. I could only fit a twin-sized bed and a teeny bedside table in it. Windows on three sides surrounded by big, floppy, green trees. No dishwasher. No laundry machine. We had maybe $500 between us, an inflatable couch, one computer with shitty dial-up, no cable and no jobs.

It was awesome.

It was so hot and humid that fall compared to the dry air and lower temps of Colorado. I remember once while we were waiting for a train at Park Street, exhausted and overheated. She backed up against the sticky wall of the station and slid down it, very slowly, sweat pouring everywhere, red-faced. We looked at each other - exasperated, like "what the fuck are we DOING here?!" - and then started to laugh maniacally.

Everything was so much harder than I’d been used to and for a lot longer than I’d imagined. Little things. Lugging laundry for blocks. Not being able to write a check for food on our first day there. The hard edges of strangers who were “all set.” Only one person in the entire city that knew me.

Yet I fell in love every day. I fell in love with the struggle and the newness and I got a job near the North Station T stop (back when it was above ground and smelled like even more piss and vomit). Every day as I rode the red line over the bridge to MGH, I was awestruck. It was such a departure from my life as I'd known it - so new, so foreign, so exciting and scary - I was a stranger and oddly at home. My throat would swell and my eyes would well up regularly as I'd say to myself on that train ride, Thank you. I am so lucky.Thank you. I am so lucky. I’d repeat it over and over, safeguarding my appreciation. Blessing my adventure.

Over the next thirteen years in this city I:

  • Witnessed 9/11.
  • Attended my first Boston Marathon and thought: this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. I vowed to run one day.
  • Ran it in 2002, 2008 and 2012.
  • Lived in Cambridge. The North End. Southie.
  • Went to my first Sox game. And Bruins game. And Celtics game.
  • Watched the Sox break hearts.
  • Sat next to Green Day (ha!) with my best friend at a bar while watching the Sox win the World Series.
  • Went to grad school in Wellesley.
  • Met my husband.
  • Had my daughter.
  • Fell in love with the ocean.
  • Moved away for six months and came back with the urgency of a child returning to her mother. Within the first hour, I handed off my baby, ran to the ocean, dove in and swam until I was blue and numb.
  • Ran thousands of miles around the city and matched my heartbeat to its own.
  • Learned to love yoga at Baptiste in Cambridge and then really love it at South Boston Yoga.
  • Made a chosen family of friends.
  • Drank. Ate. Loved. Cried. Won. Lost. Grew up.

And so, so much more.

But of all the moments that fill up 13 years and really through all 35 of my life, the marathons are among the most sacred. For myself, but also for this city. It’s a day to be proud of this place. Incredibly, unabashedly, shmoopy proud. I posted to Facebook from the Sox game on Monday that it is the “best day to be in Boston” and it’s true. Enough has been said about this, and by people much more eloquent than I.

Suffice to say when we heard what had happened, my mind flashed to last year, where my husband, daughter, best friend, co-workers and others were there at the finishing stretch to cheer me on. My mind raced to all I knew who were running. True helplessness and panic. It was personal. Someone is fucking with OUR CITY.

No.

No.

No.

No.

NO.

It’s been a long, terrifying and exhausting few days and nights for everyone. I am grateful for the people who ran to the victims the way I am grateful for the ocean. As Anne Lammott says, the kind of gratitude that is boundless.

And I am making space in my heart for the victims. Constantly reminding myself to breathe for them. Breathe in their pain and breathe out peace, light, warmth. Breath in, breath out. Everyone can do this. If you are feeling helpless, you can do this. We need to breathe anyway.

I have loved watching everyone come together. You can taste the pride in the air. And the sadness. The fight. I was in the city Tuesday morning and although it was quiet, people were walking with purpose. I have never loved this city so much.

(And I will be running the shit out of the marathon next year.)

Love is Louder.

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And Boston is Strong.

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You Can't Do It Alone. Ultimately, Only You Can Do It.

I had a pretty surreal experience one Friday night this summer. One of my ex-colleagues was moving to Austin, and he was having a going away get together in Boston. Like so many social events, I said I'd go thinking, "I'll just go and not drink and it'll be fine and fun and a good way to practice this - no big deal." And then, as the event draws nearer, I got anxious. My mind flip flopped like a fish between going/not going/going but drinking/drinking before and not drinking there/that's crazy - just don't drink!/go with someone sober/no, that sucks, just drink if you want to drink/I don't want to miss out/I'll feel like shit if I drink/he'll be pissed if I don't go/I have to protect myself first/fuck it, I want to party!/fuck it, this isn't worth it/who will be there that knows I'm not drinking?/who will be there that doesn't know?/it's just one night/what's the point?/GAH.

I went for a run that afternoon just before I had to get ready to go – or not – and my thoughts were so loud I actually stopped a few times, bent over, put my hands on my thighs and squeezed my sweaty eyes shut. Please, JUST. SHUT. UP.

Sounds exhausting, right?

It was. It is. Utterly.

I decided to go. I got ready, my mind growing more and more squirrely as I put on my mascara and tried not to look at myself in the mirror too closely. I drove to the train station and actually bought a bottle of wine on the way. I got on the train, took a seat, and put the bottle of wine between my legs. I had an empty Starbucks coffee cup in my purse, which I’d just rinsed out with old water from a water bottle in my car in the parking lot. I sat there – the gorgeous, warm, glowy light of the early evening sun bouncing off the insides of the train car – my knees up against the seat in front of me, feet dangling down and swaying as the train jigged and jagged on the tracks, like pendulums.

I looked at my phone. I could call someone. I could text someone. I paused.

My brain was in an epic tug-o-war.

I texted a friend: “Can you talk? I’m in a state.”

I took a breath and closed my eyes. Just wait.

She responded: “In 20 I can. You’ve got this.”

I took a breath and closed my eyes. Just wait.

The train approached Lynn, then Chelsea. Next stop, North Station. I still hadn’t opened the bottle.

Friend: “Do this meditation. It stops your brain.”

I played the meditation. I sat there fucking meditating on the train with a wine bottle between my legs. The slightest, tiniest crack of space opened.

We arrived at North Station and I walked off the train. I called my ex to hear Alma’s voice and we spoke for a second, but I do not remember what about. I grabbed a slice of pepperoni pizza and I glanced back at the train schedule. In two minutes, there was a train leaving for home. I ran for it, ditching the bottle of wine in the trash with a thrust of anger mid-stride.

I rode the train home feeling about as crazy as I ever had; like I had just walked to the edge of a cliff and hung over but somehow managed to pull myself back up – all adrenaline. I drove home, walked to the beach and took this picture.

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2014-11-04_18-10-14

It took me hours to come down from that train ride. Although I felt like I’d won that particular battle, I was exhausted with how difficult the war was. I didn’t feel like I’d done it myself. What if my text went unanswered? What if I hadn’t heard Alma’s voice? What if there hadn’t been a train leaving back at just that moment and I had more time to think? What if, what if, what if. It all felt too fragile.

But yet, I did do it. I had one experience where I made the decision to not say ‘fuck it’ first. It was something. It was something.

Start Before You Are Ready

After that experience, I said to my friend, “I can’t write about this stuff until I’m on the other side. I don’t feel like I have the right to.”

She called bullshit on that.

And she’s right, I realize. If everyone who had something to express waited until they were out of the muse experience to express it in whatever form, art would suck or not exist at all. We’re never really out of any experience; the path just changes shape as we grow, or don’t.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about the paradoxes of recovery.

par·a·dox (ˈperəˌdäks/): a statement or proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory.

Life in general is full paradoxes, but they feel especially pronounced and profound in the sobriety journey. Things that seem ‘logically unacceptable’ and counter-intuitive but nonetheless co-exist simultaneously. Thinking through and more importantly, experiencing these paradoxes, underscores the complexity of “getting it.”

I have five of them written down on this piece of paper next to me.

The first: You can't do it alone, and ultimately, only you can do it.

People said to me early on: ask for help. I nodded, yes, I do, ok, I will, I am. But I didn't even know what that meant. I didn't know how to ask for help - not really. I also didn't want to because that meant all kinds of things: admitting I needed it, being honest about how I felt, hearing what someone else had to say when I didn't really think anyone knew better, shedding light on my darkest shame. But also, I just literally didn't know how. Call people? I don't call anyone. I answer my mom's calls because she worries when I don't. I call my ex because we’re raising a child together and there are logistics. But I don’t call people just to talk. And every day? No.

During my worst drinking - and most people will say the same - it was a lonely, solitary show but I didn't really realize how alone I was. I could ask for favors to get myself out of the latest self-imposed tragedy like a lost phone or a car left somewhere miles away, but I could not ask for real help because the truth made me choke. The real truth was unavailable even to me because it was buried under layers of denial.

But I’ve realized through watching others and trying to do it all myself and failing (a lot) both what help looks like and how to ask for it. Sometimes it means calling. Sometimes it means getting on my knees or sitting in a closet at work, closing my eyes, and breathing until I can hear myself breathe. Sometimes it means showing up to a meeting against my will. Sometimes it’s saying, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but I feel fucking crazy” to the first person who picks up. Often times it means saying no – even when it disappoints people, even when I think I should be able to say yes because I’ve always said yes (this is another paradox about selfishness, coming later).

The flip side of this – the ‘only you can do it’ part – comes into play in the one million moments where only you can decide whether or not to drink. No matter how many hours you spend on the phone, in meetings, under surveillance of other people, or asleep, all of us have to venture out into the world solo. Save the bubble of residential treatment programs, we have to go to work, eat lunch, run errands, get on airplanes, stay in hotel rooms, go to parties, walk or drive home and pass by liquor stores and bars and a zillion other places where we could drink. We can’t hide from life (without being very unhappy). So while we can set ourselves up to stay sober, there are a million opportunities to drink. Every other week my daughter lives with her dad, and on those weeks, nobody is watching me. I could drink every night if I wanted to and nobody would have to know. A lot of times I did.

So, a big part of my path has been recognizing that in some situations, I am going to want to drink more than I will want to be sober. No matter how wonderful/proud/clear/hopeful/lucky/peaceful I’ve felt sober, there will be moments I forget all that and I’ll want to say ‘fuck it’ and drink. In these moments, I have to choose - just me. It’s not up to God, or my sponsor, or anyone else. I choose.

This is tricky because it makes it sound like we always have a choice.

From a pure physiological standpoint, when one is caught in the active cycle of addiction and our brains are going haywire, the impulse to drink (or whatever) is as strong as if you were actually in grave danger or starving to death. And once those signals are triggered in the brain, it is very, very, very hard to stop it. (This is an ultra-simplistic way of describing a very complex process.) When you’re in this kind of spiral and the “train has left the station”** it does not feel as if there is a choice. And, in the very late stages of alcoholism or drug addiction the person might actually need the substance to survive.

But physiology aside, the mental and emotional factors that weigh into the decision to drink or not, are complicated and slippery. There are a zillion angles on this, but my mind often goes to something Augusten Burroughs wrote in “This is How”:

“To be successful at not drinking, a person needs to occupy the space in life drinking once filled with something more rewarding than the comfort and the escape of alcohol. This is the thing you have to find. The truth is that people who cannot stop drinking are people who, however guilty they may feel and however dire the consequences, have become so addicted to the drug and the experience that they prefer it to the remainder of their lives. While they may truly want to be sober, they want to drink more.
Taking a drink is the opposite of powerlessness. It is taking firm, decisive action to terminate a state of sobriety that feels less satisfying and less convincing than drinking has felt in the past or we imagine will make us feel in the present. It may feel like one is powerless because it’s frustrating to be unable to authentically want the thing you really want to want. But don’t."

Feels less satisfying and less convincing than drinking has felt in the past or we imagine will make us feel in the present. This is pretty powerful, particularly when sobriety is new and uncomfortable and unsettling and shitty. It takes faith that forgoing short-term satisfaction will yield something more satisfying in the long-term. It requires believing other people who promise it’s worth it. It means enduring feelings that feel impossible to endure because you never have. It means digging real deep, daily.

All this to say, recognizing there are moments when I will want to drink more than I want to be sober - but that they pass - has been key and also a product of painful experience. I had to wake up for the Xth time on both sides of the decision tree to feel both outcomes. I have to accept that every day is a new day and just because I didn’t want to drink today, doesn’t mean I won’t want to tomorrow. I have to own both my personal power and my powerlessness over what happens after I drink.

I have to accept that I cannot do it alone, but ultimately, only I can do it.

And When You Want Something

"And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." I taught my first yoga class in over a year tonight and, oh, it was nice to come home. I also had another offer to teach at a new studio near my home. I want for more stillness, more of the heart work, the hard work that feels purposeful, even if only to me.

I was hit with a knowing this week that when I leave this job, I will be leaving this industry for something much different. I do not know when, but I know that I will. This knowing has brought an incredible peace.

Love is Louder

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It’s taken a few days to assemble the words, but while on a run today, wearing the way-too-worn-out shoes I wore during last year’s marathon, thoughts started to string together.

I moved to Boston in 1999, at twenty-one, and with enough naiveté to go somewhere I’d only been once before – to find an apartment – without a job. When people asked me why my friend and I moved here, picked Boston, I still don’t really know. We were throwing out names of cities one day in May. I can still see the light and smell the air in those moments. The electricity of those first seconds, realizing, as we both declared, “I’ll do it. I will move,” that our lives were going to change. That it would happen; that it was already written.

We threw out Chicago. Raleigh. New York. Boston. Something clicked when we said Boston. We kept rolling it around, saying the city’s name to try it out on our tongues, hear it float in the air. It was decided in minutes. We went out that night and started telling people we were moving in September. To see how it sounded.

Have you ever been there?

Nope.

Why Boston?

I don’t know. But it’s happening!

And so that September, we packed up and drove cross-country. Moved into a laughably small apartment in Davis square, on the 3rd floor of a house, that smelled like old Chinese food and no ventilation. My room was actually a sunroom or a converted porch. I could only fit a twin-sized bed and a teeny bedside table in it. Windows on three sides surrounded by big, floppy, green trees. No dishwasher. No laundry machine. We had maybe $500 between us, an inflatable couch, one computer with shitty dial-up, no cable and no jobs.

It was awesome.

It was so hot and humid that fall compared to the dry air and lower temps of Colorado that we would slide down the walls of T stations, sweat everywhere, frustrated and exhausted from getting lost, again. Everything was so much harder than I’d been used to and for a lot longer than I’d imagined. Lugging laundry for blocks. Not being able to write a check for food on our first day there. The hard edges of strangers who were “all set.” Only one person in the entire city that knew me.

But yet I fell in love every day. I fell in love with the struggle and the newness and when I got a job near North Station (back when it was above ground and smelled like piss and vomit), as I rode the T over the bridge to MGH, I was dumbfounded. Awe struck and dumb with adoration so much my throat swelled and my eyes welled up nearly every time. Thank you. I am so lucky. Thank you. I am so lucky. I’d repeat it over and over, almost afraid that someone could take it, this experience, away from me.

Over the next thirteen years, in this city, I:

  • Witnessed 9/11.
  • Attended my first Boston Marathon and thought: this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. I vowed to run one day.
  • Ran it in 2002, 2008 and 2012.
  • Lived in Cambridge. The North End. Southie.
  • Went to my first Sox game. And Bruins game. And Celtics game.
  • Watched the Sox break hearts.
  • Sat next to Green Day (ha!) with my best friend at a bar while watching the Sox win the World Series.
  • Went to grad school in Wellesley.
  • Met my husband.
  • Had my daughter.
  • Fell in love with the ocean.
  • Moved away for six months and came back with the urgency of a child returning to her mother. Within the first hour, I handed off my baby, ran to the ocean, dove in and swam until I was blue and numb.
  • Ran thousands of miles around the city and matched my heartbeat to its own.
  • Learned to love yoga at Baptiste in Cambridge and then really love it at South Boston Yoga.
  • Made a chosen family of friends.
  • Drank. Ate. Loved. Cried. Won. Lost. Grew up.

And so, so much more.

But of all the moments that fill up 13 years and really through all 35 of my life, the marathons are among my most sacred and proud. For myself, but also for this city. It’s a day to be proud. Incredibly, unabashedly, nearly shmoopy proud. I posted to Facebook from the Sox game on Monday that it is the “best day to be in Boston” and it’s true. Enough has been said about this, and by people much more eloquent than I.

Suffice to say when we heard what had happened, my mind flashed to last year, where my husband, daughter, best friend, co-workers and others were there at the finishing stretch to cheer me on. My mind raced to all I knew who were running. True helplessness and panic. It was personal. Someone is fucking with OUR CITY.

No.

No.

No.

No.

NO.

It’s been a long, terrifying and exhausting few days and nights for everyone. I am grateful for the people who ran to the victims the way I am grateful for the ocean. As Anne Lammott says, the kind of gratitude that is boundless.

And I am making space in my heart for the victims. Constantly reminding myself to breathe for them. Breathe in their pain and breathe out peace, light, warmth. Breath in, breath out. Everyone can do this. If you are feeling helpless, you can do this. We need to breathe anyway.

I have loved watching everyone come together. You can taste the pride in the air. And the sadness. The fight. I was in the city Tuesday morning and although it was quiet, people were walking with purpose. I have never loved this city so much.

(And I will be running the shit out of the marathon next year.)

Love is Louder.

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And Boston is Strong.

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To Alma: Month Seven

Dear sweet girl, We’re near month eight, but instead of combining the two months I wanted to make sure this month received its own documentation. It’s been a big one. Two weeks ago, your father got a job. A job! It will pay him! It all happened very fast and right when we’d reached another end of the rope. The night before he got the offer, we were lying in bed, both feeling extremely despondent, but not saying so. The living situation was getting tough on everyone; since we’ve moved in one or more of the adults have been sick, and so the kids have been sick on and off too, and we’ve just been passing bugs around to one another, mutating them, and then sharing the new bug with the next victim. I don’t get sick very often, maybe once a year, and I’ve been carrying around this nagging cold/cough/grossness for nearly two weeks. I think my body had had enough. We needed to know that there was a light at the end, that we’d be able to move into our own place not just eventually, but very soon.

And he got an offer. Just like that, after two meetings that spanned over 4 days, he got a (good) offer. Both of us were quite in disbelief and unsure whether to trust anything. But it was real, he started today, and at the end of this week, we’re moving into our own place for the first time in almost eight months. HOO-RAY.

I woke up this morning and thought, it’s moving week, and I clicked my heels together and immediately started making a list of things we’ll need as soon as we move in, even before. Cleaning supplies! Toilet paper! Laundry detergent! Paper towels! I went online and ordered my little heart out. Over the course of the next several days we’ll receive bulk quantities of household necessities and I am going to pass out from the sheer joy of unpacking and organizing and using them! I even ordered you a new toy, because while your new home is extremely exciting for us, it’ll likely seem very bare, quiet and less colorful to you, less the two screaming cousins and the smattering of toys at your disposal.

Our new home is in Salem, MA. We’re moving in just in time for Halloween. I cannot speak for myself, but have heard, that it’ll be quite the rockin’ display of costumed folk between now and then, and you know what? Super. I have a camera and I like to use it.

The move is also coming at a perfect time because you’re not so interested in keeping quiet these days. Your napping time has also decreased and when you do nap, you won’t sleep through a fire alarm anymore, so the whole office/nursery/closet/dressing area combo we have going here isn’t cutting it. Especially now that your dad is trying to work from home, too, and that basically means we’re both vying for the same 10 square feet of space in which to work, which happens to be 2 square feet away from where you sleep and 2 feet from our own bed. I think I now know what it would be like to live in a Manhattan studio apartment, without the benefits of living in a Manhattan studio apartment.

Nevertheless, in five days, we’re moving into our new place and I consider it to be the beginning of the end of a very, very long road traveled and the start of a lighter, brighter chapter.

You’ve been hilarious this month. Your new favorite thing to do is growl. I don’t even know the appropriate metaphor, it’s not snarly like a dog and not quite as nasty as say, a tiger. But it’s a growl and you do it when you’re eating, when you disapprove of something (like me changing your diaper when the air is cold), or basically now, whenever you have an audience. It puts us in fits of laughter and strangers find you utterly charming, I’m sure.

Your two teeth growing in, plus the cold bug that’s been flying around the house, have turned your nose into a faucet. You’re sitting up fully on your own now and if you happen to topple over you know how to push yourself to your belly. Crawling isn’t quite in your repertoire just yet and my theory is that you’re going to skip it altogether, seeing as as soon as you get on your feet you nearly explode with joy and pride, so eager to step, step, step.

I can’t think of anything I don’t adore about you right now. I’m going to write that down and keep it under my pillow for when you’re a teenager. But you’re truly so sweet and fun and squishy; you’re a big, bright light and a constant reminder to be mindful. I can take you anywhere and you’re usually happy to just go along for the ride. Once in a while you’re reticent of strangers, but it doesn’t last too long and before we know it you’re growling at them straight in the face. You’re sweet but not so snuggly, when I hold you, I know you’re happy to be held but you like to keep your distance, too. And I fear that as soon as you can be on your own, you’re not going to welcome my squeezes very often. But they’ll be here.